Complex Family Structures

NJ Family Law Approach

Complex Family Structures in New Jersey

Meeting the legal needs of adoptive families and families with complex structures

In the past, American society often venerated a particular family structure known as the nuclear family, in which two married parents raised children together. Yet this type of family structure is no longer the norm, and other, unique family structures are quickly becoming more common.

Fortunately, changes in New Jersey family law have begun to reflect—and protect—the increasingly common complex family structures we find today.

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our experienced attorneys are actively up to date on legal changes—and well-practiced in coming up with creative solutions to support complex family types’ growth and needs. We’re at the forefront of knowledge, teaching, and litigation in this area of New Jersey family law.

If you’re seeking to grow your family through adoption or exercise your legal rights in a complex family structure, contact us to set up a strategic planning session with one of our family law attorneys today.

What Is a Complex Family Structure?

“Complex family structure” is a broad term that encompasses many different family types. While nuclear families—married parents raising children together—received a lot of societal focus in the past, increasingly, these kinds of families are less common.

Instead, we’re experiencing a rise in complex families, which now make up over half of families in the United States.

According to the Pew Research Center, complex families now make up over half of families in the United States. Complex families include:

  • Single-parent families
  • Unmarried co-parents living together and/or raising children
  • Multi-parent families
  • Extended family living together and/or raising children together
  • Grandparents raising children
  • Childless families, or couples who don’t have children
  • Step-families

Because American society was historically so focused on nuclear families, legal rights and protections for complex families—and nuclear families with LGBTQ+ parents—are still evolving.

If you’re part of or are in the process of creating a complex family structure, or if you have questions about adoption, the family law and adoption attorneys at Jacobs Berger, LLC can guide you through the process.

Methodologies for Creating Families

Families can be created in many ways, including through adoption, with the help of assisted reproductive technology, and through life experience.

Since the American legal system has traditionally been focused on biology as the primary method for creating families, the formation of other family types often requires complex legal agreements, advice, and sometimes even litigation.

Because the relationships between these family members aren’t automatic under the law, their legal relationships as family often require written contracts so that all parties involved are protected and know their individual rights and responsibilities.

Additionally, because of the complexities of the initial formation of these legal relationships, if parents no longer wish to remain together, ending their legal relationship can create complications relating to the parentage of the children of these families—complications that require creative lawyering and novel litigation.

The experienced attorneys at our family law firm have spent decades working on complex family matters and have successfully litigated for clients to set new precedent in New Jersey law. If you’re seeking to expand or make other changes to your family, our adoption attorneys can guide you through the process—and get creative, when needed.

Types of Complex Family Structures in Morris County

New Jersey state law recognizes some rights and responsibilities of complex family members—and in other areas, rights are continuing to evolve.

At Jacobs Berger, our team is staying at the forefront of these changes, including in adoption law. Recently, one of our founding partners, attorney Sarah Jacobs, successfully litigated a case that set a new precedent in New Jersey—which has historically only allowed two legal parents per child—to allow for three parents to have equal legal rights and responsibilities for a child.

Family rights services in New Jersey

Family law varies by state—and so do family rights.

At Jacobs Berger, our team specializes in family law, and we provide legal counsel and representation in many different areas, including:

  • Adoption and legal guardianship in many different family types
  • Civil unions and cohabitation
  • Divorce/dissolution of civil unions and post-divorce issues
  • Child custody and parenting time
  • Child support
  • Paternity matters
  • And more

Mothers’ rights

New Jersey used to consider mothers as having different rights than fathers when it came to post-divorce issues such as child custody. However, as New Jersey family law has evolved to reflect contemporary society’s decreasing reliance on traditional gender roles, those laws have changed.

Today, mothers and fathers have the same rights under New Jersey law—including in the areas of child custody and child support.

One exception to this is in establishing legal paternity—versus maternity. Maternity is more clear-cut, as the mother is considered a legal parent when the child is born. However, for fathers, legal paternity must be established for the father to have any legal rights to the child.

For adoptive parents, this process may be different as well.

Fathers’ rights

Under contemporary New Jersey law, fathers have equal legal footing as mothers—including in the areas of child custody, parenting time, and child support.

There’s one key difference, though. Maternity is automatically established at birth, but paternity is established by one of three paths:

  • Marriage: If a child is born to a heterosexual couple, the husband is legally presumed to be the father as named on the birth certificate. This assumed paternity through marriage holds true in cases of death or separation for up to ten months before the child is born. If the individual married to the mother isn’t the father of the child, he can sign a document certifying that fact, which makes it easier for the natural father to be given legal rights to the child.
  • Certificate of Parentage: Used by unmarried parents who agree on paternity, the Certificate of Parentage is a legal document that can be signed at any time, but is best signed at birth so that the father’s name can be on the birth certificate.
  • Paternity Action: In cases of unmarried parents who don’t agree on paternity, potential parents, caretakers, and the children themselves can file a Paternity Action case with a New Jersey family law court to initiate a court trial and possibly DNA testing.

Grandparents’ rights

New Jersey family law courts believe that the needs and best interests of a child should come first.

Grandparents are viewed as an important, positive influence on children’s lives—they have legal rights such as visitation and may even be considered as potential guardians.

However, the rights of parents typically take precedence over grandparents’ rights. That said, grandparents can petition for visitation, a process that will be determined by what the court believes is in the child’s best interest.

Grandparents can also petition for guardianship, which involves proving that a parent is legally unfit to care for their child.

If you’re a grandparent seeking to establish visitation or guardianship rights, the adoption attorneys at Jacobs Berger can guide you through the process.

Multi-parent families

There are many reasons—such as assisted reproductive technology, step-parentage, life circumstances, and more—why an individual may need to seek legal recognition of their relationship with a child.

If a child is raised by a grandparent, stepparent, or other family member, this person may need to legally establish the rights and responsibilities of their relationship.

With the growth of equality, adopting a child in a complex family structure—and upholding your rights as an adoptive family—is a continually emerging area of law.

Many states across the country have started recognizing multi-parent families. A few courts in New Jersey have recognized three-parent families, and the adoption attorneys at Jacobs Berger have successfully been at the forefront of this growing area of the law.

Psychological parentage

Increasingly, children are growing up in homes with a parent or guardian who isn’t a biological parent. Whether through remarriage, cohabitation, or other complex family reasons, non-biological parents can sometimes be considered psychological parents to children.

Psychological parents may seek to establish full legal parentage through adoption. New Jersey adoption law does have some pathways open to psychological parents in certain cases.

A few key factors are:

  • If the other biological or adoptive parent(s) consented to and fostered your parent-like relationship with the child
  • If the child lived with you
  • If you assumed parental obligations such as childcare, education, and financial contributions
  • If you’ve acted in a parental role for long enough to establish a bond with the child

If you consider yourself a psychological parent to a child and want to establish your legal rights or initiate an adoption process, the adoption attorneys at Jacobs Berger can help with years of experience, creative solutions, and a knowledge base that includes establishing precedent for three-parent families in New Jersey.

Contact Our Family Law Firm in NJ

The adoption attorneys at Jacobs Berger, LLC provide knowledgeable and skilled legal services for a range of family law matters.

We have extensive experience in providing legal counsel and litigation for complex families. Our family law and adoption lawyers are working at the forefront of changes in New Jersey law as our state expands its legal measures to support greater equality.

Contact us today to schedule a strategic planning session—and receive legal support in establishing your family’s rights.